Arpino Centennial Spotlight with Steven McMahon

Read the Interview Ahead of "Birthday Variations" in Winter Mix!

As the Gerald Arpino Foundation celebrates the legendary choreographer’s 100th birthday, we’re sharing occasional “spotlights” of performances featuring his work to build excitement toward the culminating Chicago Centennial Celebration in September 2023 at the Auditorium Theatre. Ballet Memphis was founded in 1986 with the mission to create a ballet company that is reflective of its community and the nation by creating, presenting, and teaching ballet in a way that celebrates the human spirit. The Company is beautifully diverse in mind, body, and soul and seeks to use its art in service to others. The Company has built acclaimed original repertoire that speaks of the cultural significance of the area and has shared it with audiences around the globe and at home, including The Joyce Theater in New York City and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., among others. Ballet Memphis aspires to reveal and celebrate the universality of the human experience through dance and movement. Ballet Memphis performs Arpino’s Birthday Variations on its program Winter Mix: Love Songs/Love Stories February 24–26 at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis. For information, visit

Steven McMahon joined Ballet Memphis as a dancer in 2004 and has created more than 30 works for the company, including his first full-length ballet, Wizard of Oz, as well as Soul Selects Her Own Society, Confluence, I Am, and Peter Pan. Other new ballets for Ballet Memphis have included Carnival of the Animals, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, and Dracula. His work The Lovely Story of Us was performed in Helsinki, Finland at the International Ballet Competition, and his Being Here with Other People and Confluence were performed at the Spring to Dance Festival in St. Louis. His works also have appeared at Organización Para Las Artes in Guatemala and at other venues around the nation, including The Joyce Theater in New York and the Alabama Dance Festival. His first ballet, What Your Soul Sings, premiered at Ballet Memphis’ Interiorworks. He was a 2016 National Arts Strategies Senior Management Institute fellow as well as a fellow in the 2016 Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators in Salzburg, Austria. Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, he joined the Company after completing his training at The Ailey School in New York City. He retired from the stage in 2016.


Arpino's Birthday Variations rehearsal with Ballet Memphis. Click on photo for video.

Steven McMahon’s thoughts and reflections:

How do you feel about introducing Arpino to Ballet Memphis?

I am very excited to introduce Memphis to the work of Mr. Arpino. Our company has a long history of creating new work, both classical and contemporary. Still, I am very interested in bringing established choreography into our repertoire when I can. It is important that our dancers and audience learn about the rich history of American dance and the master choreographers who helped shape our art form.

What does it mean to you to have Ballet Memphis perform Birthday Variations as we celebrate Mr. Arpino’s centennial?

It is wonderful. It gives me great pride to see our company perform this work as our friends and colleagues in other companies do the same. I love thinking about how Arpino’s legacy and contributions to ballet are alive and well and are being seen by many people across the country.

How would you describe the Arpino style? What are some distinctive elements of his choreography?

The other works on our program are quite contemporary, so it was important for me to find a work that would offer our dancers a different challenge using ballet vocabulary. I love how specific and musical Arpino’s work is. There is an amazing level of detail and complexity in how the steps are performed, but it never looks too busy; it just continues to unfold in the most pleasing ways. The impetus for the steps comes from the control of the muscles in the back and spine as well as the pelvis. This approach pays dividends for dancers down the line because there is so much physical information they can apply to other pieces in our repertoire. This piece really is like a present; it’s packaged so beautifully, but you know it was made with so much care and thoughtfulness. I think a great dance comes from a beautiful synergy of movement, music, and theatricality. This is one of those dances.

How does dancing Arpino ballets prepare a dancer for other types of repertory?

Even though this is a balletic work, there is definitely a sense of grounded-ness, especially in the way the dancers run in this ballet. I think this helps them play with how they transfer their weight between steps, which directly translates to the other works on the program that need that from-the-ground-up approach.

Watch a short interview about "Birthday Variations" with Steven McMahon here.

For updates on the Arpino Centennial Celebration, check in periodically at